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Strider Spotlight: Jason & Chris Barbieri

Mikaela Reynolds Blanchette | Published on 9/23/2023
Our very own Jason and Chris Barbieri recently visited famed runner Deena Kastor, a Massachusetts native, out west for a bit of training. Below, Jason reflects on his time with Deena.

Mammoth Lakes, CA is one of the most inspirational running spots in the U.S.  Nestled in California's Sierra Nevada mountains at around 8,000 feet, it's one of the best mountain towns for running with a spectacular running vibe. It's also home to Deena Kastor, who won the bronze medal in the women's marathon at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

My aunt introduced me to Deena back in 2018 when I first visited Mammoth Lakes during a family running vacation.  It was an incredible experience.  My aunt took me to Deena's favorite coffee shop Black Velvet Coffee, where Deena wrote much of her book. At the time, I had just finished reading her book Let Your Mind Run which I purchased at the Booky Joint bookshop not far from Black Velvet.

Deena and I talked for a couple of hours about running, Mammoth Lakes, and how it's one of the best places in the country.  It was inspiring to hear her talk about Athens and how she balances her life with the level of dedication that she's had with running over the years.  

After our conversation, Deena invited me to train with her Mammoth Track Club the next morning alongside her husband, Andrew Kastor.  We did 200s that morning.  As Andrew always said, running at altitude isn't bad if you respect that you're running at 8000 feet.  However, you really feel it when running the 200s coming from sea level.

My family and I were out there for a little over 2 weeks and spent most of our time running, hiking and exploring all the beauty that Mammoth Lakes has to offer.  At the time, my son Chris was 4 and daughter Lily was a little over 1.  We knew that this was a place that we definitely wanted to return to.  My Aunt was always trying to pull us out there ever since she made the move to Mammoth.

Fast forward a few years later to this past June (2023), when I noticed that Deena was doing her Youth Running Camp over the summer.  We used this as an excuse to get back down to Mammoth.  Chris had just turned 9 and was super excited for the opportunity to run out West.  We were so excited to head back to Mammoth.  

Every morning, I dropped Chris off at Deena's youth camp, then enjoyed some new trails on my own or a track workout with the Mammoth Track Club. 

Chris won Deena's Time Trial on the first day.  For each lap that he ran for the mile TT, Deena kept telling him to slow down.  However, Chris just ran faster and faster each lap until Deena finally just shrugged her shoulders at the end.

The second day was even more amusing.  It was the morning of the Mammoth Track club workout. Since it was slightly earlier than Deena's Youth Camp, Chris joined me for the warm-up drills, as well as a couple of 200-meter dashes with the club team.  When it was time for the Youth Camp to start, Chris ran over to join Deena and I stayed with her husband Andrew and the other adults from the Mammoth Track Club to finish our workout.  Soon after, when Deena gave the kids a water break, Chris (being Chris) asked Deena if he could get in a couple of 200s with me while the kids were on break.  Moments later, I heard footsteps coming up behind us. Chris joined us for a couple 200s, then went back to train with Deena and the kids.

I would highly recommend Mammoth Lakes to anyone looking to do some altitude training out west.  The vibe is amazing.  Deena loves it and so does my family.  Chris and I were fortunate for the opportunity to train alongside Deena and Andrew.  We're looking forward to hopefully many more trips out that way!

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